In what was a moment of chaos, Tim Vaughn knew exactly what to do as he slashed toward the basket from the right wing. With Notre Dame having just regained possession, they quickly advanced the ball up-court and into the forward’s waiting arms. Now positioned several feet from the basket and with a Whitwell defender in between Vaughn and the rim, most other players would have chosen the path of evasion when attempting to score.
Vaughn chose elevation and then detonation.
In what was the defining sequence of Notre Dame’s 81-33 season-opening home win over Whitwell, the Fighting Irish high-flyer cocked back a right-handed hammer and put the Tiger defender on a poster.
The crowd roared with approval and then murmured with residual glee even as he took his free throw after the foul was called. This ruthless display of athletic talent seemed to wake up the Fighting Irish, who up to that play had been benign presences on the court.
“Anytime you get a dunk like that, it tends to energize young guys,” Notre Dame coach Jonathan Adams said. “We were playing pretty lethargically up to that point, and then that dunk energized the team for sure.”
Notre Dame began to assert themselves in transition, where guard Cole McCormick wowed the crowd with a couple of slick dunks on the fastbreak. In the halfcourt, the Fighting Irish were lethal from long-range, with wing Bryson Smith popping free for five triples in the first-half alone. Most of those were of the wide-open variety, as Ty Wilkerson and the larger Notre Dame front line routinely grabbed offensive rebounds after rare Irish misses.
The Whitwell Tigers were almost single-handedly kept within a reasonable score in the first half because of Ethan Hawk’s incredible shotmaking ability. The lanky point-guard displayed deft ballhandling and violently-effective crossovers as he repeatedly created space for his quick-trigger three-pointers from above the break. But Hawk could also break down Notre Dame’s compact defense, and he eurostepped to the cup for a layup on one occasion in the first half.
“I thought we got into some bad habits, and they had a really good player who was getting by us,” coach Adams said.
But try as he might, Hawk could not stop Notre Dame’s backbreaking transition attack. On what might have been the play of the game, Kenny Hammond caught an outlet pass while falling out of bounds on the baseline. Instead of committing a turnover, he made the right choice and quickly snapped the ball to McCormick, who scooped in two points and made the game 40-15 going into halftime.
“That’s going to be our best offense all year, trying to get out in transition,” coach Adams said. “We have some really good athletes, and that’s what we practice. I think that’s one of the best ways to get good shots and we were able to get out in transition today.”
Notre Dame did not let up in the second half, although Whitwell’s Chris McDalin did score two quick baskets to start the half. One of those was a vintage hook shot over the left shoulder right after Ty Wilkerson had put in two easy points of his own. But that was more or less the only highlight for the Tigers after halftime. With two minutes gone in the half, Vaughn added to his highlight reel with a back-scratching two-hand flush on another fastbreak. But wanting to prove himself as more than just a dunker, he threw a perfectly-timed one-handed bounce-pass across the length of the court to a streaking McCormick for yet another dunk in front of a frenzied home crowd, who got to enjoy a stress-free season-opening victory.
“It’s always good to start off with a win,” coach Adams said. “We got a lot of things we need to get better at, but all in all I’m happy with the effort.”
WHITWELL 7 8 14 4 - 33
NOTRE DAME 14 26 26 15 - 81
WW: Ethan Hawk 16, Chance Atherton 4, Cy Young 2, Jace Wooden 2, Chris McDalin 6, Jackson Jeano 3
ND: Wesley Jones 3, Tim Vaughn 10, Bryson Smith 21, Cole McCormick 13, Ty Wilkerson 6, Noah Daniels 6, Kenny Hammond 8, Jayden Kelly 3, DJ Brown 2, Josh McGhee 2, Andrew Fillauer 7
GIRLS: Whitwell 59, Notre Dame 34
A 2-1-2 zone is one of the most difficult defenses to break down, especially on the smaller dimensions of the average high-school court. Two guards relentlessly hound the ball-handlers up top, two forwards cover the corners and wings, and then a ballhawking central defender makes getting the ball inside a chore. Addie Colvard and the Whitwell Tigers played that defense to perfection in their season-opening win over host Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish found it nigh-impossible to crack this defensive alignment and turned the ball over at an alarming rate.
“We’ve been working hard, and I wasn’t surprised at how well we executed, because we’ve done a good job of it in practice,” Whitwell coach Eric Zensen said.
Whitwell jumped out to a slim 13-11 lead after one-quarter, but asserted themselves in the second, outscoring Notre Dame 15-4 in that frame. In the halfcourt, Whitwell’s high-post passing was pinpoint. Abbi Cartwright and several others were rewarded for incisive cuts all game, and were the recipient of great assists before laying the ball in. Whitwell also pushed the pace when possible and nabbed a bevy of layups in the open court.
“We try to push tempo and try to get the ball to the basket anytime we can,” coach Zensen said. “We have a pretty fast team, so it’s to our advantage to get the ball up and down the floor quickly.”
Maddie Zensen provided balance to Whitwell’s attack, knocking down a trio of downtown treys when asked to shoot the ball. But Zensen was not the only player who shot well. Colvard put in a third-quarter bomb off the glass as time expired to put the Tigers up 45-23. Inside and out, Colvard was a standout for the Tigers.
“Addie did a good job for us on the boards, and I thought she was really good in an area that can be a weakness for us at times,” coach Zensen said.
Notre Dame struggled to create offense, but Kenzie Campbell and Claire Mullins nearly hit double-digits for Notre Dame. Defensively, Notre Dame had some success executing a full-court trap after makes or stoppages, but the Irish were not able to force enough of those to make the game close.
“It seems like it’s been forever since we’ve been able to play,” coach Zensen said. “And it’s good to be on the floor, not just getting the win.”
WHITWELL 13 15 17 14 - 59
NOTRE DAME 11 4 8 11 - 34
WW: Jamie Rollins 9, Kiley Kilgore 3, Madie Zensen 10, Brooklyn Morrison 2, Lilly Dzinglski 5, Abbi Cartwright 8, Adrianna Elledge 3, Addie Colvard 12
ND: Annabelle Distasio 2, Tori Soutuyo 2, Kenzie Campbell 9, Georgia Wolf 4, Mary Fillauer 2, Makyla Skaggs 5, Miriam Gaines 2, Claire Mullins 8,